Issue #252 -------
June 3, 2006
Again and again there comes a time in history
when the man who dares to say that two and
two make four is punished with death.
Albert Camus (1913-1960)
Shocking!! That's what it was! Absolutely, unequivocally shocking! Jesus, who was a Jewish man, was sitting there by a well having a conversation with, and even requesting water from, a Samaritan. Not only that, but this person with whom He was conversing was a woman. And furthermore, it appears they might have been alone. And it was high noon (vs. 6 -- if reckoned using Jewish time), not the usual time for women to be out gathering water. Some scholars speculate she may have been coming to the well at this unique time (a location which was typically a social gathering place for the women of a community) because, given her long, and some suggest sordid, history with men, the other women of the village may have been shunning her -- after all, when she later left the well, returning to the city to advise the residents of the person she had met, we are informed that she went to the men (vs. 28). Even worse, this encounter between the woman and Jesus may have occurred during the evening (if reckoned by Roman time), and thus it would soon be dark. What on earth was He thinking?! Wasn't He aware of the cultural norms of His day? Even John felt the need to comment on this rather remarkable incident, pointing out in a parenthetical statement that "Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" (vs. 9). His disciples, with whom He had been traveling, weren't around -- they had gone into the village to find food (vs. 8). However, when they returned to the well, and took in the scene, "they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman" (vs. 27). The Greek word the apostle John employs in this particular passage is thaumazo, which means to be filled with astonishment, wonder, and amazement. Behavior such as was being evidenced by the Lord Jesus on this occasion was unheard of. It was radical ... extreme ... scandalous! It could get you "talked about" ... it could get you "written up" ... it could even get you killed in certain circles.
Well, welcome to the wonderful, wondrous world of Jesus! He came to seek and to save souls, and no "cultural norm" was going to stand between Him and a sincere seeker. Jesus came to break down barriers between the races, the classes, and the sexes. There was no more rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek ... or even Samaritan. All were equally precious in His sight ... and still are. Oh, that we could learn that lesson today!!
The dialogue between Jesus and this nameless woman, which occurred at Jacob's well, located about half a mile outside a city of Samaria known as Sychar (a small village near Shechem), "near a parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph" (vs. 5-6), is one of the most powerful and insightful accounts to be found in the New Covenant writings (although, interestingly, it is only mentioned by John; the Synoptic Gospels are completely silent with respect to this incident). Modern day disciples of our Lord Jesus refer back to specific statements made in this dialogue almost daily. Not all such appeals to this text are positive or honorable, however. Indeed, "proof texts" are frequently lifted from this ancient exchange to bolster one's ultra-conservative theology in matters ranging from acceptable worship to divorce and remarriage. Thus, these texts have been either ignorantly misused or maliciously abused for centuries so as to promote a restrictive religious perspective. In so doing, the actual beauty and depth of the dialogue is lost, and one is left with little more than beastly dogma!
The first thing that genuinely impresses me, as I reflect upon this account from John 4, is that there was an open and honest dialogue taking place. And it was happening between persons one would least expect to be engaging in such -- a leading Jewish teacher and a Samaritan woman of perhaps questionable repute. As noted, this dialogue shocked the disciples of Jesus. It even shocked the woman herself (vs. 9). But, that was the nature of our Lord's ministry. He reached out to people that "the religious elite" regarded as beneath them. Although Jesus was truly above all men, NONE were "beneath" Him!! This fact generated considerable criticism of Christ and His ministry. "Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them'" (Luke 15:2). Shocking. What was Jesus thinking?! "And it came about that He was reclining at the table in Levi's house, and many tax-gatherers and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples" (Mark 2:15). Unheard of. Outrageous. Not overly insightful, was He?! Not very discriminating! As one Pharisee observed, when, during the course of a meal being hosted at his house, a particular woman anointed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them with her hair, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39).
It is also significant to note a very important principle displayed in this dialogue -- the evolution of perception. In other words, genuine communication does not generally commence with perfect understanding between all the parties engaged in dialogue. That understanding evolves from confusion to conviction ... at least, that is the ideal. I have had people refuse to dialogue with me, for example, because I did not agree with their every conviction. This misses the whole point of dialogue!! When differing disciples come together to converse they will inevitably "talk past one another" in the initial phases of their discussion, neither side fully perceiving or appreciating the convictions of the other. This is quite normal. This is also the stage during which "honest hearts" make all the difference in the evolution of perception. If there is a genuine love for the other person; a genuine interest in understanding why they think and behave as they do; if there is a willingness to listen, not just react, then in time what began as "talking TO one another" will evolve into "talking WITH one another." Those who do not possess honest hearts, however, will rarely get beyond the initial confrontation stage ... if they even agree to dialogue at all (and typically they won't).
The first great eternal Truth Jesus shared with this Samaritan woman was the "living water" He had come to deliver to those thirsty souls who were spiritually parched. As previously noted, this woman did not even begin to grasp what Jesus was saying at this point in their discussion. However, she was certainly open to receiving such "living water," even though she didn't fully perceive the significance of it. "Lord, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw" (vs. 15). Rather than rebuking this woman for her lack of understanding, Jesus instead redirects the dialogue. He asks her to go get her husband, to which she responds, "I have no husband" (vs. 16-17a). Jesus then tells her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true" (vs. 17b-18).
This insight into her past life, from a man she had never seen before, stunned this woman. She later told some of the men of the city that Jesus had told her "everything I ever did" (vs. 29). At the point He revealed this insight, she perceived Him to be a prophet (vs. 19). Later, she would wonder if perhaps such insight indicated He was more than just a prophet --- "Could this be the Christ?" (vs. 29). Evolution of perception! But, let's return to the Lord's revelation of this woman's past relationships. Needless to say, it has led to centuries of speculation as to the prior and present nature of this Samaritan woman's activities. This woman has been characterized as just about everything -- from a wanton whore to a weeping widow. I have devoted a section in my book -- Down, But Not Out -- to this incident, as many have attempted to appeal to this passage as justification for their views on marriage, divorce and remarriage. I am not convinced that such is justified, and provide that section of my book [p. 109-110] below for the reader to consider:
Other scholars are convinced the woman had actually been married five times, and that each of those marriages had come to a tragic end. Whether they had been dissolved by divorce, or by death, or a combination of the two, is not specified. Although some have criticized this view by stating the number of relationships is unrealistic, such behavior is not altogether uncommon, either then or now. The Sadducees, on one occasion, questioned Jesus about the fate of a woman, following the resurrection, who had been married to seven men, all of whom had preceded her in death [see: Matthew 22:23-28]. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that the Samaritan woman had outlived five husbands. Nor is it inconceivable that some or all of those marriages may have been terminated by divorce. There is simply no basis whatsoever for choosing one over the other. Either is a reasonable deduction.
The fact that Jesus stated this woman was now with a man who was not her husband has led some to question her moral character, and to assume her previous relationships were therefore less than honorable. If indeed her present relationship was a sinful one, this would certainly not reflect well upon her character. It could indeed lead one to assume her prior marriages had ended because her husbands found within her "some indecency."
These views are all speculative, however; there is simply not sufficient information supplied in the text to determine with any degree of certainty the nature of this woman's character or relationships. By examining her in the worst possible light one might claim she was either a prostitute or an immoral woman with whom no husband could long endure. In the best possible light, one could surmise she had simply been widowed five times and was now in a relationship with a man with whom she had not yet entered into a covenant of marriage. Either view is completely logical and consistent with the facts as presented in the account. Further complicating the matter, Jesus neither condemns nor condones her past; He merely indicates His awareness of it. To attempt to formulate any kind of theology concerning divorce and remarriage from this passage, as some have tried, is completely unwarranted by all principles of sound exegesis.
Just for the sake of argument, let's assume the worst about this woman. Let us take the view, which some do, that she was a woman with a disreputable past, and that her present relationships were less than honorable. She gravitated toward the men, and the women shunned her. If in fact this was true, what do we learn from the example of Jesus here? I think His message is loud and clear -- no one is beyond redemption! Jesus is willing to reach out to those deemed unworthy of life by the religious and social elite. When a woman caught in the very act of adultery was dragged before Him, He refused to condemn her or cast the first stone (John 8). Instead, He forgave her. Shocking! Radical! Brethren, I fear we are often much too willing to write certain people off; to criticize, condemn and castigate. Not my Jesus! Regardless of this Samaritan woman's past, our Lord reached out to her in love; extending mercy, showing compassion and grace! Dare we do any less?!
Returning to John's account, we see that when this woman perceived that Jesus was far more than some thirsty man sitting at a well, but that He was apparently a prophet of God, her whole focus shifted, and the dialogue took a sudden turn. She didn't even bother responding to the statement about her past relationships, but immediately shared with Him a concern that was heavy on her heart and that reflected the legalistic mind-set of many of her contemporaries with respect to worship: "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship" (vs. 20). The Jews and Samaritans had different concepts of what was appropriate and acceptable in worship. Their practices varied, as did their theology. This woman was essentially asking, "Whose set of regulations constitutes the legal norm?" Rather than taking sides in a legislative debate, Jesus transcended the issue by directing this woman's focus away from systematic regulation and to spiritual reformation. "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father ... But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (vs. 21, 23-24).
During God's dispensation of grace, of which you and I are now a part, our worshipful expression has been liberated from legislative determination. Jesus nailed such limiting decrees to the cross and freed us to show forth our worship unto the Father with a newfound, heartfelt liberty. A system of rigid regulation of every aspect of our devotion to God has been forever terminated. We are free!! This is the point the Hebrew writer seeks to convey to his readers when he informs them that the regulations of divine worship (Heb. 9:1) were imposed only "until a time of reformation" (Heb. 9:10). The restrictions upon worshipful expression were temporary and would be removed! This would occur at a specified time determined by the covenant maker: a time of reformation, or "the time of the new order" (according to several translations, such as the NIV). The writer used a very rare Greek word, diorthosis --- a word which appears only here in the New Testament writings --- to express this thought. This word signifies a complete rectification, a setting right once again. This time of reformation, this implementation of a "new order," would occur when the Messiah instituted God's new covenant with mankind. Dr. F. F. Bruce writes, "The coming of Christ involved a complete reshaping of the structure of Israel's religion. The old covenant was now to give way to the new, the shadow to the substance, the outward and earthly copy to the inward and heavenly reality" (The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 197-198).
The "hour" of which Jesus spoke to this Samaritan woman is the "time of reformation." It would be a dispensation of grace in which "regulations of divine worship" would be made obsolete. No longer would one's expressions of worship be judged worthy or unworthy by specifics of a systematized religion or the tedious tenets of traditionalism. At the time of reformation --- under the new order of the new covenant --- which Jesus indicated to this woman was at that time appearing, all worshipful expressions of the devotion of men's hearts would be spiritually, not legalistically, rendered and received.
Such matters as in what mountain or in what building, with how many cups, or with what style of music are all regulatory in nature. Stipulations concerning such matters are simply attempts, once again, by an element of God's people lacking in spiritual perception, to impose rigid "regulations of divine worship" upon their brethren, thus limiting by legislation the full and free expression of one's devotion and praise unto God. The result is a fractured fellowship with numerous fuming factions engaging in open warfare over matters long since abolished by our Savior at the cross. Having failed to discern the "time of reformation," many brethren continue to struggle over "regulations of divine worship." Involved in endless debates over the "mountain" in which men ought to worship, they have found themselves with little time or inclination to embrace or promote worship which is "in spirit and truth." This is a very important statement, and I have done an in-depth study of it. Rather than reproduce it here, I would urge the readers to examine this study:
Our Lord, that day at the well, uttered one of the most profound truths regarding our approach to God ever uttered, and He did so to a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water. When she departed, she had discovered the source of "living water ... a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:10-14). She also learned that day what God really sought with respect to worship. It was not ritual, it was relationship. With sincere hearts ALL men may approach their Father and express their devotion. Worship would no longer be subject to legalistic, patternistic regulation. A time of reformation had come, ushered in by the Son. It is a time of grace, a time of responsible freedom, a time of substance over shadow. With hearts transformed by His indwelling Spirit, motivated by honest desire, we worship our Father "in spirit..." (from the depths of our hearts) "...and truth" (with unfeigned genuineness and sincerity). "For such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers" (John 4:23).
From a Reader in Colorado:
Al, I appreciate you and what you are doing more than I can say! Reading your Reflections articles is meat and drink to my soul. I devour them just as soon as I get them, without regard to the hour. Thank you, and God bless you!
From a Minister in Arkansas:
Dear Bro. Maxey, I must thank you personally for this last issue of Reflections ["Speak Ye The Same Thing"]. Well done, brother! I pray that your Reflections articles will continue to edify your many readers, and also convict those who may be drifting off the path of righteousness. Your studies enlighten a lot of people. May God continually bless you, and this mission.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, Whew! You said a mouthful. Amen. We must have unity with diversity. Your citation of 1 Cor. 12 is what immediately comes to mind -- the human body, which is used so often to describe the Body of Christ, is the prime example. Thank God everyone in the Body is not simply a clone of me or you or anyone else. If every member were exactly the same, where would be the challenge that promotes growth? We would all sit around and stare at one another and have a thought, and all in the room would have the exact same thought. How boring! How deadly. In my field of work we often bring in outside speakers and trainers to promote growth and change, but also to prevent the deadly result of "in-breeding" that would exist if the only thing heard was the "same old - same old." As a teacher I am stimulated by the diverse views, opinions and perceptions of all who are in the class. I come away from every class with something new that I have learned from someone, and it is not always from the most experienced ones at that. I recently taught an adult auditorium class on 1 Corinthians. Although I arrived at the same conclusions you have on this passage, I will now add your thoughts to my notes so that in future classes I will have more information to share. Keep up the good work, and thank you for this study on unity.
From the Director of One Body Ministries:
WOW. You need to start writing more regularly for One Body Ministries. You expressed the ideas of unity better than I ever have ... or ever will be able to! "Good Job!" simply doesn't cover it. Granted, I am biased as to the topic, but "Speak Ye The Same Thing" is definitely one of your best-written articles. Don't be surprised if this article of yours falls under the "standing permission" clause of our relationship, okay?!
From a Doctor in Oregon:
Al, I eagerly await each week's Reflections, and so appreciate your work and dedication. I am sharing your writings with my fellow elders and the minister here in -------, Oregon, and believe some of them have even subscribed. Your comparative use of several translations in your latest article -- "Speak Ye The Same Thing" -- reminded me of a question that I have regarding the plethora of new versions that have recently come out. How do they fit into the spectrum of literal-dynamic equivalence, readability, any doctrinal quirks, etc? I am thinking specifically of the ESV, Holman CSB, NLT, et al?
From a Reader in New York:
Al, I have ordered your book, Down, But Not Out. My daughter has also told one of her friends about it, and I have given a copy to another young woman. I intend to read this so I will have biblical answers to this problem of divorce. Thank you!
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, I haven't had time recently to let you know how much I continue to appreciate the fine research and study you put into your Reflections, and how much I look forward to receiving each one, even when we don't agree (which is only rarely), because they make me think and analyze my own views in relation to yours. Whenever a person can write about a particular subject and stimulate positive reflection and study on the part of his readers, as you do, then that person has done a remarkable job! Thank you.
From a Reader in Barbados, Caribbean Islands:
Al, Thanks for another inspiring commentary. I refer to Issue #250 -- "Help Thou Mine Unbelief." You have spoken to this with much clarity, as usual, giving the several different views of various commentators and then culminating with your own perspective. I must confess that your view makes sense to me. We very often chastise one another over the matter of little faith, especially during times of great personal challenge. However, I seem to detect a different approach coming from your Spirit-led wisdom. You appear to be admonishing us to be there for one another during times of unbelief and little faith. We all go through this valley at one time or another, and so we certainly need the support of the brethren whenever that time comes upon us. Bro. Al, my prayer continues to be, "Lord, help Thou my unbelief." While it is true that I never doubt that God is able, I nevertheless sometimes wonder, "But, will He?" I still believe, though, that He always does what is best for His children. Thanks again, Al, and God bless.
From a Minister in California:
Bro. Al, Reflections #251 -- "Speak Ye The Same Thing" -- was absolutely MASTERFUL. You hit the nail on the head -- powerfully! In fact, your reflections have inspired some reflections of my own, which I would like to share with you -- a brief comparison of the dissimilarities between those seeking Unity and those seeking Uniformity. This is not exhaustive, but if you can use my two cents' worth to honor Christ, go for it. I have lived in both camps [we in the Christian Church have our share of ultra-legalistic patternists too -- they just don't have the power base of their Church of Christ counterparts]. I discovered, however, that the joy of Christ is far more exhilarating among those seeking Unity than among those seeking Uniformity. Here is my comparative chart:
Unity = Jesus Christ
Unity = Include Sinners
Unity = Unconditional Love
Unity = Grace of God
Unity = Mental Creativity
Unity = Winsome Witness
Unity = Short List of Essentials
Unity = Free to be You
Unity = Relational Fellowship
Unity = Natural Result of Grace
Unity = Saved by Faith
Unity = Harmony & Warmth
From a New Reader in Alabama:
Bro. Al, A friend in the Churches of Christ has been forwarding me your Reflections, and I have enjoyed them immensely. Would you be willing to add a charismatic Baptist minister to your mailing list? I would really appreciate it. Thanks for all you do for our King and His Kingdom.
From a Minister in Kansas:
Bro. Al, One-cup man here. Thanks for the article on 1 Cor. 1:10. Al, not all one-cup brethren are in agreement with the editors of the Old Paths Advocate. As a matter of fact, I know very few one-cup brethren who even receive the OPA. Within our own group many members call the OPA a "Rag Sheet." For many years the OPA has been viewed by brethren outside the one-cup fellowship as the mouthpiece for our group. The OPA is not an official church publication, however, and it certainly does not speak for many of the brethren I've known for almost 30 years. The OPA is nothing more than a tool used by some brethren to make it seem that all one-cup brethren agree with their views. This could not be further from the truth! The men who control the OPA do not even agree among themselves on all Bible passages. Think I'm joking? All you have to do is ask the men who contribute articles to this paper what their view is on the marriage and divorce question. No need to mention any other subjects because you will find plenty of "diversity" of opinion on just that one subject. In truth, I learned "Unity in Diversity" from these very men. They have practiced it for years! Of course, they will deny it, but all you have to do is read their past articles and you will see that I speak the truth. To be fair, all groups within the Churches of Christ do the same thing. It is as though they all read the same manual -- "101 Ways to Divide the Church." I'm tired of all the nonsense, and I hope others are as well. Perhaps one day brethren will return to God's plan for Unity and do away with the Church of Christ's plan for Division. May God bless all who seek peace and unity.
From a Minister in England:
Hi Al, I just read your Reflections article on Demas [Issue #229]. It was a big help in my sermon preparation. Many thanks, and may God bless you. With love from England.
From a New Reader in Ohio:
Pastor Maxey, Almost thou persuadest me to become a Church of Christ member (Acts 26:28). I recently, just by chance, came across one of your Reflections articles on the Internet. While I am not a member of your group (I'm Southern Baptist), I am a member of the one faith in the One Body of Christ. As a result of my initial find, I followed the links and discovered your Reflections archives. I read a number of your very interesting discussions on the more notable teachings of the Churches of Christ (my daughter and grandchildren are members of your group). I found your teachings to be most refreshing, candid, logical and biblical, presented in a respectful and insightful manner. I thank you for your ministry and service for the Lord, and will look forward to reading more of your work in the future. May God bless you, and I salute you for a job well done!
A Dear Brother Is At Rest
On Thursday afternoon, June 1, 2006, a beloved brother in Christ, and a wonderful friend, passed from this life and is now at rest from his labors for the Lord. Dale Cole had been an elder of the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ here in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and I was honored and privileged to be able to serve at his side. In so many ways I looked to him as a mentor and guide. He was one of the most gentle, loving, kind and godly men I have ever known. I learned so much about being an elder from his patient instruction and his personal example. Dale had a varied career during his long life -- he was a pilot, a rancher, owned his own contracting company, and was a preacher of the gospel. What he truly loved the most, however (and he often told me this), was serving as a shepherd among the Lord's sheep ... and I count him one of the best I have ever known. I will miss him greatly. Please keep his lovely wife Dorine in your prayers, and his family. Although this in many ways is a loss, yet we rejoice in his victory! We'll see him again one day!
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